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Be It Resolved

By Ed Maier, Former Andersen Partner

It’s that time again.We start another new year by making resolutions of what we will do this year to improve our lives.What steps will we take to make our lives better?What is that one thing that we have always said we were going to do, that we vow to finally accomplish?Or, do you decide not to make any resolutions because you don’t keep them anyway?

Over my lifetime, I have probably broken more resolutions than I have kept.But in those instances in which I have made a solid commitment to do something to change my habits, I have been successful.Thousands of words in thousands of books have been written about how to help you make and keep resolutions (just another way of saying “changing your habits”).Here are a few ideas I have learned and practiced that have helped me.Perhaps they will work for you.

First, start with a goal.What do you want to accomplish and by when do you wish to accomplish it?Many of you have heard the acronym SMART for setting goals.As a refresher, SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based. (There are variations on this acronym, but they generally relate to these five attributes).

Be specific.It is not a worthwhile goal to say you want to “make more sales calls” or “lose some weight” or “exercise more”.Establish specific targets for your new goal – “I am going to make ten more sales appointments per week at which I will have thirty minutes with my potential customer to explain our services”; “I am going to lose twenty pounds over the next six months”; “I am going to do a thirty-minute cardio workout three times per week.”Each of these particular goals also meets the second criteria of SMART.They are measurable.Whether you account for them yourself or have someone track your activity, their achievement can be measured.If you don’t create a personal yardstick to help you measure your success, how will you know you are making progress?

As you set these goals, make sure that they are achievable.In the case of the specific goal described earlier to increase the number of sales appointments, is there realistically enough time in a week to do everything you have to do as a part of your job and still achieve the goal of increased calls?If not, do you have to resolve to do something else in order to be able to achieve the goal of increased calls?Is your goal to lose weight over the next six months a goal that you tried many times before and failed?Or is it a goal that you know you can achieve because you have achieved it before?Is your goal to do regular cardio workouts on a weekly basis something you have discussed with your doctor?Are you both satisfied that this is healthy for you?

Another aspect of setting goals is to consider whether or not you are challenging yourself appropriately—the so-called stretch goal.This relates to the fourth letter of SMART – R for Relevance.If your doctor tells you that you are sixty pounds overweight, it is not exactly relevant to have a goal to lose ten pounds over the next six months.However, relevance is improved if your goal to lose ten pounds over a specific period of time is tied to a longer term goal to achieve the weight loss that your doctor recommends.A relevant goal is one that fits in with your longer term needs.If it is a goal in your business or your work, it should be a goal that fits in to the overall goals of the organization.If it is a personal goal, it should fit in to the other aspects of your personal life.In some models the letter R stands for Realistic or Results-oriented; you choose what works for you.Any one of them makes sense to me.

The last category of the goal-setting acronym is Time-bound, or Time-sensitive, or Time-related.Your completion of the goal should be something which can be accomplished over a specific period of time that you target for yourself.All three examples which I have mentioned earlier are time-related – sales calls per week; weight loss per six months; and working out three times per week.

Once you have made your resolution and set the new goal for yourself, you should create an accountability mechanism.This will help you monitor your goal achievement.Many of my own goals have only been modestly-achieved, or have not been achieved at all because I did not hold myself accountable for their accomplishment.Here are a few thoughts on what you can do to help you be accountable and accomplish your resolutions:

  • Let’s assume your resolution is to accomplish something specifically related to your work environment and the success of your team. Communicate your goal to other members of your team and let them see how it ties in to the team’s overall goal.Team members who see that you are trying to align your goal achievement with their success, will almost always help you be self-accountable.
  • If your resolution is of a more personal nature, you can still share your goal with a trusted partner.Work out an arrangement by which that partner can safely communicate with you about how you are making progress toward your goal.Let me give you an example.An executive coach I knew worked with an executive who had a serious issue.He often lost control of his temper in meetings with his peers.This executive was very committed to the company and to the role of his team in the company’s success.But at times, he would be in meetings with his peers—peers whose coordination or cooperation he needed for his team’s success.If he sensed that a peer was not coordinating or cooperating, he had a very short fuse and often lost his temper.The coach conducted interviews around this executive.She learned that one of his peers, who was also a supporter and friend of the executive, observed changes in his facial expressions or body language that signaled he was about to lose his temper.The coach arranged a meeting with the peer and the executive.They worked out a signaling system which the peer could use to alert the executive when it appeared he was about to lose his cool.Over time, this technique helped the executive accomplish his resolve to control his emotions in difficult situations.
  • Technology can help.Many people who have created resolutions related to improvement of their health have found useful electronic tools in the marketplace (electronic bracelets, smart phone apps, etc.).Such devices help them monitor progress toward achieving their resolution.I often use computer software (in my case Outlook) to help me monitor progress toward keeping my resolutions.I can create reminders, prepare notes and use the alarm system to help me track key items that I want to accomplish.

Whatever steps you take, whatever tools you develop and use, you have to have some method of holding yourself accountable to keep the resolutions you make at the beginning of each year; or at any time, for that matter.

Another aspect of resolution-setting that you should not overlook is flexibility.As you begin to try to keep your resolutions, inevitably something will come at you that could disrupt your plans.Circumstances change; events occur that might require you to defer them for a short time. Don’t panic.Be flexible.Recognize the need to alter your actions.But do something to keep your primary resolve in focus so that you can resume it.If you plan to increase your sales calls by ten per week and you only make seven in the first week, you do not need to up your goal for the following week to thirteen!Your primary focus should be to stay on track toward your original goal of ten per week.

Self-accountability in monitoring resolution change or goal achievement does not mean you have to do everything yourself.If you are going to set a weight-loss goal, inform certain key family members or friends of your intentions.Enlist them in helping you with the monitoring process. You will find that most of the people around you want you to be successful in keeping your resolutions.If at work, secure the assistance of team members or peers to help you monitor goal achievement.Any of those around you in your personal or business life can help you by cheerleading your accomplishments or by helping you to get back on track when you slip off the path of accomplishment.

Making resolutions or changing habits are one and the same thing.Remember that your present habits are perfectly designed to get the results they are getting.If you want different results, you need to make and keep your resolutions.

Happy New Year’s Resolutions!May you have success in achieving them!

I am interested in any ideas you have about how to do this.As always, feel free to write me at ed@thinkstraighttalkstraight.com.